MANILA - Filipino and American troops participating in the ongoing Balikatan (Shoulder-to-Shoulder) military exercises amid the continuing Chinese incursion in the West Philippine Sea are looking into their respective roles in case they need to work together to fend off an attack from a third party, as set by the US-Philippines defense pact.
"Ang mga pinagsasanayan ay kung papano ang tropang Amerikano o ang US armed forces at Philippine armed forces ay tutugon sa kaniya-kaniyang magiging papel sakali't kailanganin natin, halimbawa na ang Mutual Defense Treaty ay ma-trigger o mabigyang power," Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, the Balikatan exercise director from the Philippines side, said.
(We're training how the US and Philippine armed forces will fulfill their respective roles in case the Mutual Defense Treaty is invoked.)
The two countries' 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty binds them to aid each other in the event of foreign aggression.
"An armed attack against the Philippines' armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific, including in the South China Sea, will trigger our obligations under the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty," US State Department spokesman Ned Price said last week amid the lingering presence of Chinese ships in the South China Sea, especially in parts covered by Manila's exclusive economic zone.
This, as hundreds of Chinese navy and maritime militia vessels have remained in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone despite diplomatic protests filed by Manila.
The US, Japan, Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom have criticized China's incursions, saying these threaten peace and stability in the region.
"The intent of every iteration of Balikatan is for both armed forces to train together on defense and security, leveraging on the capability, experience, and strength of their friendship," Arevalo said of the military drills that will run until April 23.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the activities are limited to tabletop and simulation exercises, that include exchanges on air and maritime interdictions; pandemic response operations; and a Simulated Close Air Support (SIMCAS) and live fire exercise.
These events will be conducted in areas within the Northern Luzon Command and Southern Luzon Command.
A "Call for Fire Exercise" will see a US aircraft delivering fire support for American and Filipino troops on the ground, said Arevalo. It will happen on April 20 at the Col. Ernesto Ravina Airbase in Pampanga.
"It will simulate the need to employ air capability while observing the procedures involved during call for fire," he said.
Among the adjustments made, the AFP said, is a decrease in participants from both armed forces, with 736 from the Philippine side and approximately 225 from the US.
Last year, the Balikatan was canceled due to the pandemic. President Rodrigo Duterte also abrogated the Philippines-US Visiting Forces Agreement, which governs the conduct of American troops in the country. But it was suspended twice amid the global health crisis and other developments in the region.